Over the past few days, worldwide audiences have watched anxiously as the story of the entrapped Thai boys came to a miraculous end. The twelve boys, who were trapped in Thailand’s Tham Luang caves for eighteen days, were rescued by a group of British cave divers, and after being pulled out and brought to safety, the world wanted to know how they kept calm. The key to their resilience? A buddhist form of meditation, taught to them by their soccer coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, who had spent a decade as a saffron-robed monk at a gilded temple in Northern Thailand before becoming a soccer coach.
Inspired by the tactic that kept these boys calm, we did some digging into the exact meditation tactic the boys were taught while in their time of trauma. After all, if the practice could alleviate the acute stress of the boys’ life-threatening experience, it may be worth implementing in our own lives – even to cope with the minor anxious thoughts that often flood our minds and cause us stress.
Leah Weiss, Ph.D., MSW, a Stanford University researcher and meditation expert who was taught by the Dalai Lama, told CNBC about the Buddhist meditation practice, which is often used in times of distress or danger. “[When you use this technique,] cognitive resources that would otherwise be hijacked by the threat can be accessed once again,” she explains. “That causes your problem-solving capacities to increase."
Weiss says the Buddhist practice comes down to the full inhale and exhale of the breath. She suggests starting with a full breath, feeling the air go through the nostrils and into the lungs, and holding for a few moments before exhaling. She also says it helps to envision any negative feelings being released with every exhale. “Given that insufficient air and food was a major issue for the trapped boys, meditation is actually a very practical response to both of these concerns,” Weiss says.
Although seemingly simple, the Buddhist meditation technique can be difficult for most people to naturally implement in times of real stress or anxiety. The trick? “Set up a specific time and place. Have a realistic initial goal that you succeed in and build from,” she suggests. "Recognize that resistance to the habit and to the meditation itself is part of the process, so having an accountability buddy, a system or class is helpful for many people.”
If you want to read more about the cave rescue, here are five inspiring takes that are keeping us drawn to this miraculous story:
How Rescuers in a Thai Cave Pulled Off the Impossible, New York Times
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